HOW WILL YOU APPROACH PRACTICE WITH RAIN IN THE FORECAST?
“Obviously, we are going to put a lot of effort into going fast in this practice session, which means you’re going to have to work the draft. We want to make sure that’s we’re starting up front. It’s not crucial here, but I think it’s important and with what we learned in Daytona, I think track position is more important these days at a restrictor plate race than they used to be.”
DOES THE RAIN MESS WITH YOUR MINDSET?
“Honestly, if we didn’t practice at all it wouldn’t even affect my mindset. I don’t think we’re going to learn a lot in practice so this is actually kind of exciting that we’ll actually be able to go out there with a purpose for a potential starting position for tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how that plays out.”
ON STARTING POSITIONS:
“I certainly would like to qualify. I think our team has an excellent shot at being on the front row or pole. We typically qualify well here. I would like to see us qualify and we can’t be guaranteed that the weather is going to come and rain this thing out tomorrow. We’ll be prepared for both scenarios.”
WILL THE HENDRICK CARS RUN TOGETHER IN PRACTICE?
“We’re going to consider all options, but we’re actively going to work the draft to try to go fast. If that’s what’s going to help us start up front tomorrow then we’ll do that. Typically, we wouldn’t worry about that. Typically, we would just go out there and see how the car is in the middle of the draft and look at our temps, look at our handling and look at the options of pushing or not pushing, being pushed and all those things. We’ll still do some of that, but we’re also going to try to put up a fast number.”
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF TRACK POSITION:
“It was hard to pass in Daytona and it’s not that it’s just hard to pass, it’s that nobody wanted to get out of line. Everybody kind of protected their position until those crucial moments in the closing laps. I think that there could be some more of that this weekend and I made some mistakes by getting a little bit over-confident that we could make some moves with some other cars and drive to the front. Until we see that happen here, I think it’s going to be more of start up front, try to have good, solid pit stops and strategy and stay up front and go after it in the closing laps.”
IS THERE ANY REASON THIS COULD BE DIFFERENT THAN DAYTONA?
“No. The only thing that is different is this is a wider race track. You don’t have to worry about handling where handling was a little bit of an issue at Daytona. You don’t have to worry about that at all here. You might be able to push a little bit more aggressively and we’ll look at the temps, but I think it’s going to be just as challenging and difficult to jump out of line and to get a line formed on that inside to move up there. It certainly could happen and it could have happened at Daytona, it just didn’t seem like enough guys really wanted to get organized to do it. They were pretty committed to stay in that outside lane so it made it very challenging and I would think you are going to see a lot more of the same here.”
HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THE UNKNOWN THAT CAN HAPPEN AT DAYTONA?
“This car this year, we’ve experienced a lot of that, not just at Talladega or Daytona, but a lot of tracks. I think that we go into it trying to utilize our past experience, try to utilize what we’ve learned so far this year and then always try to look ahead at what we feel like we could gain and how we could get better. I think that here at Talladega, the only unknown is when that big wreck is going to happen and what’s going to cause it and sometimes it happens when you least expect it, but you can be assured that you get a full group of cars down to the closing laps of this race and it’s going to happen. It’s just whether or not you get caught up in it or not. Last time I was here I got very fortunate, they were slamming and banging and cars flying all over the place and we were able to sneak by on the apron in three and four and come out in second or third.”
HOW DO YOU COMPARE YOUR MINDSET NOW AT TALLADEGA COMPARED TO WHEN YOU STARTED RACING HERE?
“The first time I came here, I came with moderate confidence because of our success at Daytona that year. We ran up front. I don’t remember how we ended up here in that first race, but you definitely have to treat this slightly different than Daytona because it is bigger, wider, faster and the drafting is slightly different. What moves you’re able to make as a driver, just because of the security the car has here is a little bit different. Over the years, certainly that confidence is built because of our success, but at the same time the cars have changed, packages have changed, how you win at Talladega has changed. We were close a couple years ago and hopefully we can be smart and make some good moves and get ourselves back in a position. All you want at a track like this is to have yourself in position to be able to make some of those moves and hope that your momentum carries and you get a good finish and maybe even a win.”
HOW DOES THE GEN-6 CAR IMPACT THESE RACES?
“It’s a different aero package and this car has a lot of drag, but a lot of down force in it. It’s a little bit different in the draft. We saw in Daytona where you could upset the cars a little bit more when you got up close to them and outside of them. I don’t think we’ll have to worry about that too much here, but still it’s something to think about. You can really play with the side draft a lot more here at this track with this car and so it’s certainly different than what we had last year.”
ON THE INDUCTION CEREMONY LAST NIGHT:
“Oh my God that was so cool. I haven’t been to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame event in a few years. It was very special to be there with Rick (Hendrick) and to see him honored like that. I know how much effort he and his organization have put into this sport and I know how much it means to Rick to be honored like that and having all four drivers and crew chiefs and many others that have been a part of that success over the years there last night meant the world to Rick. He did an awesome job as usual, very classy. It was also very cool to hear the other stories with Dale Inman and Richard Petty and Don Schumacher, Rusty (Wallace), it was a great event I thought.”
ON INCREASED SPEEDS IMPACTING RACING THIS SEASON, SPECIFICALLY AT INDIANAPOLIS DURING THE TIRE TEST:
“The speeds were up because Goodyear, it’s a tire test. They’re trying different combinations and different tires. The speeds won’t be that fast because that tire didn’t really pan out. It just didn’t lay the rubber that we were hoping that it would lay so it had a lot of grip, was super fast. We showed up second day, low temps on the track early in the morning and we busted off some crazy laps. Then it wasn’t short after that we went back to the Indy tire that we’ve run in the past. It’s a great tire, but it definitely doesn’t have as much grip. Speeds are going to be significantly less than what those were that we were putting out there. Just because it was cool to go that fast. I thought it was awesome. To have a car stick like that, not even in qualifying trim was to me a great experience at Indy. I wanted to talk about it and so did other drivers. There’s no doubt that the faster you go through the corners, the bigger hole you punch in the air, the more it’s going to impact the racing. We need wide race tracks where we can get multiple grooves and we can search around the race track to be able to make that work. That’s just been evolution. That is just how the sport has evolved over the last 50 years. That’s where we’re at and that is where the Gen-6 car is and I think we have had some great races and certainly plenty of challenges. You do not want to be in the wake of that car. You have to get away from it. Yet when you’re away from it, it sticks really good so it’s got a lot of comfort, gives the drivers a great feel of confidence and allows us to push a little harder.”
WHO WOULD YOU PICK AS THREE DRIVERS FOR A FANTASY TEAM FOR THE ALL-STAR RACE? “Oh my gosh, active drivers for the All-Star race. You can’t go wrong with Jimmie Johnson. Those guys have been so good in that race. The way that Matt Kenseth is running this year, those guys are just so, so strong. I’m trying to think who else has really been, I think maybe it would come down between a Kyle Busch or a Brad Keselowski, those guys have just been solid, fast and I would probably lean towards Kyle just because of his aggressiveness and abilities to do such a good job on restarts in those first couple laps. That’s when that race is won in my opinion.”
HOW MUCH DO YOU PAY ATTENTION TO SECURITY AT RACE TRACKS AND SURROUNDINGS IN GENERAL?
“I think you go through different times. I’ve been in this sport a long time and so when I first came into the sport, you put a moderate amount of energy and a team does into the safety of the cars. You’re main focus is how I can make this car go fast. How do I get it to the end? That’s is just your primary focus. Then some incidents happen where safety becomes a top priority and you put a lot more energy into that. I see the same thing with the tracks. They’re always trying to make sure everybody is safe, but sometimes things happen that you don’t really anticipate whether it’s what happened with (Denny) Hamlin, with me in a similar scenario in Vegas or what happened in Daytona. I think everybody needs to understand that these cars are traveling 200-plus miles per hour, safety is something that is a big focus, but there’s still things that you can’t prepare for. I think they’ve done a great job looking at the Daytona incident and that was one of those incidents where that car hit an area of that fence that just, it’s like an one-in-a-million chance of that happening. I think those are the things sometimes that are hard to foresee that you wish you could, what about that one-in-a-million? How could you possibly prepare and get ahead of that and be proactive rather than reactive. The nice thing is that I know the speedway here has made sure and all the speedways have looked at those crossover gates making sure that area does not give way in an impact if that were to happen again. Cars are going to get airborne, I think the cars are far better these days. They are going to get airborne, parts are going to fly off if they get into the fence, but I think most of the time it’s going to be minimal debris that gets put up into the grandstands as well as minimal injuries to the drivers, but it’s still possible.”
ON TRACK SECURITY:
“You know we had Monica Seles to a race, oh my gosh, 18 years ago as guest of DuPont and to me that was the first time we were really focused on it because it was after her incident that happened on the court. I know we were all conscious of her coming into our series where there is very minimal security when it comes to the fans access because that’s part of our sport. I wanted to make sure she was comfortable. She handled it well, but she was pretty shocked at how interactive we are within the garage area with the fans. I’ll be honest with you, not much has changed over the years. That’s just something we’ve come to expect and I’ve never felt threatened ever. I’ve had great interactions with the fans, doesn’t mean they always say or do the things that you hope for, but I’ve never felt unsafe. It’s one of those things that we’ve got to continue to keep that uniqueness and that accessibility. You just hope that there’s not one person out there that ruins that for everybody else.”
AT WHAT POINT IS IT DANGEROUS FOR AN INJURED DRIVER TO COMPETE?
“I think you have to look at your injuries. You have to put faith in your doctors and listen to them, they are the experts. Then you have to understand where you’re at in your career. If you have many, many years ahead of you then you have a bright future and you have a team that supports you to get through that healing process then you need to take your time and think long term. If you’re somebody that is struggling to keep that ride, they are going to push the limits more and take that risk. Life in general is just risk versus reward. As a race car driver, we don’t think of ourselves any more risky out there than somebody else that has a nine-to-five job. It’s just the way our minds work. You have to take yourself out of that and understand what the dangers are, what the risks are and if you re-injure yourself, can that be life-threatening or something that ends your career. I think for me, I’m later in my career and have a family and so an injury like what Denny (Hamlin) went through, I don’t know. I might not come back from that just because, is it worth it? For Denny, I think it’s worth it for him to really take his time and do it right. What he’s doing this weekend, to me that makes sense. It’s Talladega, there’s ways to avoid those incidents. I’ll be interested to see if he gets out or stays in there. If I know Denny he’s going to have a hard time getting out. Sounds like he is ready to go.”
ON PERSPECTIVE OF INJURIES THAT COULD TAKE YOU AWAY FROM YOUR FAMILY: “My perspective on what kind of risks I’m going to take when I know what’s laying in front of me. It doesn’t change the risk that I’m going to take out there on the race track or how hard I’m going to push or whatever it takes to win races. That’s not on my mind when I’m out there, but when incidents happen and you go through certain injuries and stuff like that, yeah, you’re family definitely plays an important role because they are very important to you. You start to realize where the real priorities are and when I’m at the race track my priority is to win. If there is something that’s going to take me away from spending quality time with my family 10, 20 years from now, that’s something I would weigh in any decision I make.”
HOW DO YOU TREAT THE ALL-STAR RACE?
“I think we push hard to try to win every race. The difference is that you have a shorter amount of laps. You know that it’s kind of a win or nothing scenario and that’s not the case on the other weekends. Again, going back to the risk versus reward thing, it’s sort of a win or nothing maybe top-two or three, other than that it really doesn’t lend itself to battling over the top to try to get fifth or sixth or eighth or something like that. I’ve always approached it as being aggressive, I love the energy from the crowd and the whole event. We try to push hard whether it be in practice or qualifying just to get that car to be really, really strong especially over a 10 or 15 lap run because that seems to be where you can really make up positions and put yourself in position to win.”
WOULD YOU DO THE SAME THING DENNY HAMLIN IS DOING THIS WEEKEND?
“I probably would take a little longer vacation. He’s young, he’s got so many years ahead of him. I probably would be more patient with it just because what do I have to gain? I’ve had the fortune of winning four championships, sure I would like to win more, but he’s not won a championship. He has so many race wins ahead of him. I think he’s seen how good his team is this year and I think that makes it more challenging for a guy in his position than it would be for me to wait it out.”
DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO RETURNING TO DARLINGTON?
“I am, I always look forward to going to Darlington. It’s a great track, it’s fast and exciting. It’s not the same track it used to be 10 years ago, but it’s still one of those tracks where you have to push hard, be patient. We’ve run good there the last couple times so I’m looking forward to it.”